Wednesday, November 27, 2013

MST3k Month: Arbitrary Listing Time - Joel Edition

With 25 movies done, I realized I still had a few days left till the end of the month. Not wanting them to just go to waste, I decided to try and take on one of the all-time great questions any MST3k fan gets to contend with - picking favorites.

Which should be easy...but damn, the show has a LOT of good moments. It's almost easier to put together a list of the weak episodes in the long run.
Still, I made a go of at least putting together a decent list of five favorites from each of the two 'eras.' Plus, for the Hell of it, five favorites from the shorts, which have become almost a category unto themselves.

All this culminating in one last review at the end of the month.

Oh, and as you can imagine, these aren't going to be quite as thorough as the 25 writeups were. One part cause the format itself isn't really about deep review (hey, they even say this within the show's main theme!) and one part because with Thanksgiving coming up, these are my designated 'ease off' write-ups.

Also, rather than attempt to rank these any more than they already are, I'll just be listing them in chronological order. So understand, where a film falls on this list is not a matter of ranking. know, given the nature of this show, adding extra captions feels futile. So in these moments, will be using a suitable riff from the episode from here on out.
...what? Can't I at least take that time off here?


The entire Gamera series are regarded as classic episodes, and for good reason. The material is both pretty fun on its own while also giving Joel and the bots a lot of material to riff (with some extra assistance care of the dubbing by Sandy Frank. For another good example fun at SF's expense, look up the Fugitive Alien episodes.) The first is no exception to that rule. While I enjoy the VS episodes, there is something about this one that just nudges it above the later endeavors. I think it's how Joel and the bots handle the concept of (as they would later coin the character type) the 'monster' child in this movie. With Gamera not having any monster to fight, young Kenny's affinity for him just comes across as a mix of a nuisance and downright creepy, leading to a LOT of great riffs about his behavior. These range from simply depicting Kenny as a jerk ("Let's see. What can I ruin next?") to setting him up as akin to an occult acolyte to the big turtle ("Gamera demands your immediate death!") The other sources of jokes in the episode are also quite good (things like Joel's mockery of one of the film's character's dub voices that leads the bots to threaten him after a while,) but I think it's the sheer extent they take the riffing on Kenny that really helps send this one into the top for me. It's a concept that's odd enough on its own, but doesn't look as bad when there's another monster to be the bad guy. Here, Kenny has no fallback for his idol to look good next to, so Joel and the bots are free to unload on the kid with relative impunity, and they do so with great results.

Favorite Riff - As part of the more demonically skewed riffs about Kenny:
Child (in film, referring to stones stolen from Kenny) "It's just...I threw them away. Into the river."
(Shocked look by Kenny)
Joel: (as Kenny) "DIE! DIE! DIE!"
(Crow and Servo start chanting a la The Omen)

Favorite Skit - Joel tries to ascertain the nature of Crow and Servo's hatred for young Kenny. Probably one of the best parts going to Crow's delivery on "Now when I see Kenny, I wanna give him a big snuggly huggly! ... and then squeeze him. and squeeze. AND SQUEEZE!" The gleeful malice Trace Beaulieu puts into the line as it moves on being a big part of where the humor from it comes in.

"Heeeere comes the Devil!"

-The Day the Earth Froze

The first of the now famous Russo-Finnish quadrilogy (you know, this set would be a nice follow up to the Gamera pack in the event anyone at Shout Factory is listening,) and still the most enjoyable to me. It's a good mix of the movie itself running at a nice lively pace, and the riffs likewise keeping in top form.
With a short on the circus, where Joel tries in vain to keep the bots from skewing the humor to the dark side, this episode is already off to a strong start. Then the movie itself kicks in, and this is another that lends itself quite well to the riffing. From a start which allows them to get a lot of the Finnish gags out of their system early, we get thrown into this bizarre but kind of endearing adaptation of The Kalevala. Once the story itself properly gets going, some of the best laughs of the film largely go to the movie's antagonist: the witch Louhi. Well, that and her fixation on the elusive Sampo, a magical device the movie is kind of vague on (the opening narration explains it, but the riffs override that,) leaving Joel and the bots to mull it over, and get a nice new running joke out of it in episodes to come.
It really makes me happy to learn this was one of the films picked for the 25th Anniversary release, cause it has held up very well among their greats.

Favorite Riff - The 'Total Failure' song. Easily.

Favorite Skit - Crow and Servo, inspired by the short, decide to pitch their own circus. Despite Joel's admonishing them otherwise, it inevitably turns into 'a dark carnival of the soul.'

"It's the latest chapter in the Taster's Choice saga!"

-Manos: the Hands of Fate

Yep. The classic. One of the most infamous movies they ever ran, and subsequently one of their funniest episodes. It really speaks to the abilities of the writers on this show that they could take a movie as rambling and bizarre as Manos and still get a lot of great riffs out of this. Alongside the added joke of the idea that this was the movie that made Dr. Forrester and Frank suspect they went too far (I'm gonna have to disagree, that line was crossed with Monster a-Go Go,) they just find a lot of great material to work with in this. From the wide array of gags about the Master's brides and the seeming obliviousness of the main family to the veritable fountain of humor that is Torgo, the reason this episode is on the list almost explains itself. It really is some of the best talent of the show in top form, trying to wrap their minds around a movie that, to this day, they still feel somewhat perplexed by.
Also, as a nice bonus, the movie is preceded by the conclusion to the priceless short Hired, giving us gems like "Gah! Flying elves are back!" and "I'm beginning to sober up and you're scaring me!"

Favorite Riff - Servo's entire mid-western monologue during one of the movie's last prolonged pieces of location porn. I'm not sure how much of that was written in advance and how much of that was improvised in recording by Kevin Murphy, but it is arguably among his best moments in the show's run - and for how long he worked there, that is pretty high praise.

Favorite Skit - This one's a tough choice, but I think I'm gonna have to give this to the group's roadtrip skit using footage from Manos. The traumatic breakdown from Crow and Servo that ensues while reminding them of the movie is priceless, culminating in a sad/funny "Oh, Daddy!" as the bots break down sobbing to Joel.

"They all laughed when I accused my parents and I kiiiillled theeeem
Let's see if they'll be laughing noooooooow!"

-I Accuse My Parents

This is another one of those movies where Joel and the bots take an outlandish concept pitched by the movie and run it all the way to the proverbial goal posts. I mean, yeah, like I said before, the movie is already pretty inadvertently funny on its own anyway. Leave it to them to not sit back and let their jobs be done for them, the writers took the ridiculousness into some other wonderfully bizarre areas. Things like a recurrent 'nagging guilt' voice whenever Jimmy lies, as well as one-upping him with their own ridiculous versions of Jimmy's lies, and their having a field day with Jimmy's parents and their hard-drinking circle of friends are but a few of the topics that get stoked for humor here with great results. Further adding to the fun, they start the episode off with an educational short on truck-farming, of all things, and get some great quotables out of it ("Praise the truck farmer! Worship him at the altar of your choice!")
Combining this movie with MST3k is like an insanity Reese's. Two great things that taste great together.

Favorite Riff - I can't not laugh when Joel and the bots roll out their "LIAR! LIAR! LIAR! *ZING*" to accompany each of Jimmy's latest exaggerations. The delivery is what really sells the joke.

Favorite Skit - Joel and the bots trying to get to the root of what makes Jimmy lie. Between the sheer ridiculousness of sources chosen ('bad haircut' for one) and the highly cluttered visual aid they roll out with all of their connection points, the result is pure gold.

"Our hero, ladies and gentlemen..."


My, my, my, my Mitchell. This is one of the single best examples I can give of someone going out on a high note. This marking Joel's final episode on the show, it was only fitting they have a suitably awful movie to send him off with. Fortunately, this one was as riffable as it was awful. The entire idea of Joe Don Baker as a detective alone was enough to give Joel and the bots plenty of ammo to run with (see their own lyrics added to one of the movie's instrumental tracks for a great example.) Paired up with some laughably Italian stereotypes, John Saxon literally escaping the movie in an edit, and the movie's now infamous love scene ("Oh, how I long for The Burning Bed right now!") this was the movie that just kept giving. At the end, it's a little sad to see Joel go (though considering the reason in-show for leaving, it beats the alternative...and even out of show, I respect the decision) but it's at least nice to see he left us in top form with a movie that they played for a LOT of great quotables and laughs.

Also, I have to admit, rewatching this, I really like how they closed off the episode with just enough of a sign the show would continue (the last words being Dr. Forrester asking future host Mike Nelson "What size jumpsuit do you wear?") It's a fairly minor part of the episode, but it really was just the perfect note to close it on, and a nice bit of lightness after the surprisingly emotional send-off for Joel.

and oh yes, this is the episode that inspired the much talked about and somewhat infamous grudge on the behalf of Baker towards the cast and crew at Best Brains.
Which did wonders for turning their barbs away... ...until the tenth season brought us Final Justice, anyway.

Favorite Riff - Picking a favorite for this episode is, to be honest, REALLY hard. There's a lot of great ones, but one that stands out above the rest is tricky.
Though if there's any one I think I've quoted more than any others, I think it goes to Joel and the bots adding lyrics to a fight scene in the movie:
Mitchell! (Ryyyyyyyye on the sandwich!)
Mitchell! (Heart pounding!)
Mitchell! (Veins clogging!)"

As just a sample, anyway.

Favorite Skit - This was one of those surprising ones, given the skits on this episode are definitely more story-driven than a lot of the other episodes, with this being Joel's last. That said, I have to give this skit pick to the first ad break, when Gypsy learns of Dr. Forrester and Frank's plan to kill Joel. Besides the 2001 reference, the deliberately stilted way Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff perform their evil laugh is, strangely enough, one of the funniest things in this episode for me.

That's it for tonight. Swing by tomorrow before the triptophane kicks in for my five favorite Mike episodes.
Also, if you can, see if you can catch the streamed MST3k Turkey Day celebration tomorrow.

Till then!

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